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Animation Nation

8 juni 2007
This year’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival puts the spotlights on Benelux. Linda Van Tulden of Antwerp-based DeFamilieJanssen talks about the current state of animation in Flanders.
Imagine the scene: the film you produced has just won an Oscar. You’re in Hollywood and the studios want to hear about your future plans but all you have to tell them is that you’re contemplating a new project about nuns and vibrators. This is the unlikely situation that Linda Van Tulden found herself in some 20 years ago with director Nicole Van Goethem. Having wowed the Academy with her cartoon short A Greek Tragedy, Van Goethem was about to go down the nun/sex toy route with Full Of Grace. This wasn’t something that Van Tulden felt the studio bosses would want to hear about - so she kept quiet.‘I felt extremely negative about the Oscar. I felt I was stripped bare when I was standing up front,’ the producer recalls. ‘There was no way that when an American producer asked me about my next film that I would tell him it was about some nuns who experienced the benefits of a dildo.’Perhaps as a consequence, that Oscar didn’t give as much a flip to animation in Flanders as might have been expected. For the better20 years on, Van Tulden is in surprisingly upbeat mood about the prospects for animators in Flanders. As a 2006 report on the sector indicates, these are difficult times for animators. TV support has dwindled. The best talent continues to be drained away from Belgium. It is well-nigh impossible to make an animated feature for less than €4 million. In other words, you won’t be able to finance your film in Belgium alone or to recoup your costs in the domestic market. Production remains painstakingly slow. An animated feature will take between 24 and 36 months to complete - far longer than fiction films. Nor is public funding especially generous. The Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) invests around one million Euros a year in animation. ‘I think it is a good moment - a difficult moment for sure - but I think in 2007, a lot of things will be changing for the better,’ she says, listing all the positives. For a start, animated films don’t suffer from the same problems of dubbing as live-action fare. Nowadays, it is easier than ever to put together English language voice-casts. This makes it easier for animated work to travel in the international market. ‘We have very good dubbing studios which is something we didn’t have 10 years ago.’Meanwhile, costs are coming down. When Van Tulden started in the business, the software programmes needed for computer animation were prohibitively expensive and took many months to master. ‘We had to buy the programme Maya, for example. One licence for Maya was €21,000. And we needed 16! Already that was a handicap. Now, Flash and other new software, are extremely cheap.’ Distribution outletsShe is also optimistic about the new talent emerging. ‘10 years ago, film schools were arts schools for animation. The directors of the school said they were making artists, not training technicians. All these artists went to make short animated films but there were no studios. Nobody was interested in doing studio work, and that’s where the problem was.’ Now, the film schools are teaching students the rudiments of such practical matters as lay-out and working as part of a team.Van Tulden believes that the discussions prompted by the 2006 VAF report into the animation sector have had a beneficial effect. For once, everyone in the animation sphere came together to share their ideas and recommendations. In animation, if not in other sectors of the Belgian industry, she points out, French and Flemish-speaking filmmakers work closely together.Another reason for optimism is the growth in potential distribution outlets. ‘I can have mobile content, I can have internet distribution. All these new technologies are creating a new wave in animation. You can put it (your film) in pieces and send one scene or one sequence.’ She adds that animated filmmakers in Flanders are becoming more and more savvy about such matters as merchandising and spin-off computer games. Co-production frustrationVan Tulden recently co-produced (together with Walloon YC Aligator) Snow White - The Sequel, the latest film from Picha, one of the best-known figures in Belgian animation. Rik Mayall and Stephen Fry have been recruited to do the English voices. This is a film fairy tale strictly for adults, focusing on such subjects as bigamy and sex.With her company DeFamilieJanssen, the veteran producer is also working as the Belgian co-producer on animated TV series The Incredible Adventures of Kika and Bob, a joint venture with Submarine in the Netherlands.She continues to work on animated fare for both kids and adults. Among her more intriguing projects is Silence, a new animated feature based on a graphic novel to be directed by Jaco Van Dormael and Harry Cleven. Van Tulden hopes to set up the €8 million film - also aimed at adults - as a majority Belgian co-production.One of her frustrations is that she has so often had to work as a minority co-producer. What this has meant is that she rarely exercises much creative control on projects. ‘What the majority co-producers expect from you is to bring the money and shut up, but what we want is to have a part in the movie.’ Still, working on elaborate European co-productions has provided Van Tulden with a vast range of contacts, all with their own areas of expertise.Most animation producers in Flanders also work in other areas. For example, Van Tulden has worked on live action dramas as well as cartoons. Not that she will ever abandon animation. ‘I believe animation will suffer less than other things from YouTube and Google Video. It still takes time to make animation and children like it. There will always be a place for animation.’